AICCTU State Cadre Workshop:

What is to be done?

The Tamil Nadu state conference of AICCTU is going to be held in a situation of all-round attacks of the Central and State governments on the working class. AICCTU membership in Tamil Nadu is yet to cross 25,000. Initially there was a rapid development in our work in Chennai and various sectors like beedi, powerlooms and leather and leather goods in the state. But now we face stagnation. To meet the challenges ahead, we must grow into a distinct force in the working class movement of Tamil Nadu and make fresh breakthroughs in the unorganised sectors like beedi and powerlooms and reorganise our work accordingly. Hence it was decided that our preparations for the conference would start from the discussions on the future course of the movement. A state-level cadre workshop was held in Tirupparangunram on 24-25 November, 2001 towards this end.

On the first day there were discussions on Lenin’s What is to be done? Excerpts from the booklet were sent to the participants were sent in advance. Ten questions were formulated for discussion. The discussion concentrated on the following issues:

1. Are the scope and reach of our trade union work satisfactory?

2. Do we find any parallel between our functioning and what Lenin characterises as amateurishness and backwardness?

3. Capitalism restructures itself. Do we restructure our mode of TU functioning accordingly? If not, can this be related to spontaneity?

4. Trade union is a united front of various ideologies. It is the class organisation of the workers at a primary stage. What is to be done to carry revolutionary ideology among the workers and to build the trade union as a weapon of class struggle?

In the discussions it was stressed that narrowing down the scope of activities will lead to economism and trade unionism and vice versa. This is a vicious circle and our fundamental duty is to break this vicious circle and come out of that.

It was also stressed that What is to be done? should be read from the premise that that the work was a critique of “leaders” of trade unions who were lagging behind in leading the emerging working class with a political approach in an intensive and extensive way.

Also, there was a realisation on aspects such as amateurishness, backwardness and narrowness that they were not problems arising due lack of skill in day-to-day practical work but problems originating in our mode of thinking, work style and organising, that narrow down the limits of our activities among the working class. Spontaneity in our functioning is exhibited in our failure to restructure our work to suit the needs emerging due to the restructuring of capitalism. Cadres emerge all through our work but we fail to identify such cadres and develop them in a consciously planned manner. We can overcome all these problems of our work only when we develop and raise our TU work into a multi-faceted and fullfledged working class movement.

On the second day of the workshop, papers were presented on work in beedi and powerloom industries by respective in-charges. Along with the Chennai paper an article, Corporate Ideology and Trade Unions: Should Workers and Capitalists Join hands to Meet Competitiveness? Was presented.

On beedi and powerloom industries there was a discussion on the scope for exposure of the cruelty of capitalist exploitation in these sectors. 72% of the textile production is from the powerlooms sector. The average production cost per meter of cloth in the mills sector is Rs.27 and it is just Rs.12 in the powerlooms sector. Powerloom workers fetch considerable income for the government too apart from the profit appropriated by the powerloom owners. But they live in sordid living conditions. Their wage rates are low. There is no opportunity for upward mobility. There are problems of bonded labour. They are forced to sell their kidneys, their children and so on. This is a sector where we have ample scope for exposure of capitalist exploitation and indifference of the government.

There are 2.55 lakh registered looms in Salem, Namakkal and Erode, and the unregistered looms in these areas are double this number. There are one million powerloom workers in Tamil Nadu. But we work only in some areas among a few thousand workers. This is our major problem.

There were suggestions regarding work in this sector that we should concentrate on anti-government struggles on issues of minimum wages, minimum bonus, implementation of labour legislations etc. Our work must be expanded among more workers, the office functioning in Kumarapalayam and Pallipalayam should be strengthened and new cadres should be developed.

In the beedi sector, the capitalists refashion their attack on workers. Utilising the ban on smoking in public places, they cut the wages and other benefits of the workers. Such a state of affairs has increased the opportunity and possibility for anti-government struggles. We have to make planned efforts to shift the focus of organising into the residential areas of beedi workers.

There were suggestions that we should organise publication of exposure oriented propaganda material, fact-finding teams, conventions involving intellectuals, media personalities and academics interested in both the sectors. It was realised that our activities should not be narrowed down to mere TU activities and it was a challenge to raise them into a broad workers movement.

Discussions on Chennai work commenced with the reading of the article on ‘corporate ideology’. The significance of capitalist attack lies in making the TU leaders acknowledge and conceptually recognise that LPG (liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation) is inevitable.

The reach and influence of the movement is restricted to the extent of success of capitalists and capitalist governments in co-opting the working class and trade unions conceptually on the issue of competitiveness. Capitalist competition and the resulting anarchy in production naturally lead to the destruction of productive forces.

Ideological hegemony plays a crucial role in the capitalists’ calling the shots with regard to the trade union agenda and deciding the nature of the playing field and rules of the game. Capitalist restructuring is aimed at maintaining the profit rate and increasing it whenever possible. Their ideological success leads to the rejection of any alternative ideals on the part of the trade union movement. This always leads to the postponement of any alternative ideals to some distant future. This forever leads to a situation of class compromise – class collaboration today and class struggle tomorrow. Nothing is more naive, more disorienting or more debilitating to the trade union movement than the acceptance of the ‘competitiveness’ framework.

Discussion on Chennai work focused on the following points:

1. How do you explain the paradox that the decline in Chennai work occurred even as the work reached a higher stage of development? What is the nature of this decline? What are its manifestations?

2. Capitalism restructures the production process to maintain and increase the rate of profit and to overcome the crisis. Do we restructure our ways of organising the workers, formulating tactics and developing suitable forms of struggle to face the challenge of capitalist restructuring?

The Chennai paper emphasised issues such as:

1. We cannot continue with the same method of functioning anymore. Everything has changed as to where to work, among whom to work and what sort of work to do. Our TU has not made suitable changes. The earlier institutional functioning, which developed out of our efforts to give an organised shape to our work, has turned counterproductive. Bureaucracy and formalism are inevitable in institutions and the modes of thinking and style of functioning developed reified in course of time were products of that institutionalised functioning. This led to a decline in our living contacts and interaction with the workers, their initiatives, their struggles and their movement, and in developing them as fighters against capitalism.

2. Our TU activities are confined to negotiations with the management, with the labour department and to fighting court cases. Struggles have become rare. An idea that struggles disturb our regular work also hinders our work. There are no vibrant grassroots struggles and there is no connection with such struggles, if there are any. Even the ongoing struggles are launched by the workers themselves. Our suggestions and approach towards problems such as closure, retrenchment, payment of dues and other benefits clearly reveal an attitude of avoiding struggles. Instead of unleashing the initiative of the workers and making them take their own decisions, we, their ‘teachers’, take decisions which will not ‘harm them’. With such an attitude within the factories, in our trade unions, how can there be dynamism in our calls against globalisation, against the politics of globalisation?

3. We exhibit weakness in conceptualising a workers movement beyond our TU activities. There is a gap on the part of our leaders on this score. We have to realise these shortcomings and make efforts to overcome them. Instead, we are looking for shortcomings outside the organisation and outside ourselves. Steel is tempered in fire. Our working class base, the workers movement, will be politicised through building a cadre force strong in ideology, by building a network of cadres.

Discussion on future plans focused on the following issues:

3. Taking efforts to attract workers beyond our trade union influence;

4. Specified comrades would concentrate in a planned manner among specific unorganised sectors;

5. Study circles would be formed at factory level to ensure dynamism at the grassroots level; bright workers would be involved in these study circles; these efforts would be made outside the TU structure; vanguards would be involved in “Learn Marxism” campaign;

6. The politicisation of our trade union base, which is weak and superficial, should be raised; and

7. A cadre force would be built up politically and ideologically in a consciously planned manner and a network from top to bottom would be built up with a dynamic functioning.

The workshop was presided over by a team of comrades comprising G.Radhakrishnan, NK Natarajan and Sankarapandian. The CPI(ML) State Secretary Balasundaram and State Committee member Pandian addressed the gathering. The first day discussions on What is to be done? was summed up by NK Natarajan and S.Kumarasami concluded the discussion on practical work on the second day.

-- S.Kumarasamy